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Hold On Tight

Someone from our Foster Care agency posted this video. It’s from 2017, so I’m surprised it hadn’t come across my newsfeed till now. If you can’t watch it, the voiceover says:

We’ve done well in life. With help from our adviser, we made it through many market swings.

Retirement age couple, straightening up the house. They sit at a table when the doorbell rings.

Sure we could travel, take it easy. But we’ve never been the type to just sit back. Not when we have so much more to give.

The scene is obviously a situation of a social worker dropping off a new foster child to their home. Then their title of “Empty Nesters” is crossed out and replaced by “Foster Parents”.

So yeah. Here I am crying at work.

But interestingly enough, it wasn’t so much the twist at the end that got me. I’m actually a little too realistic (cynical?) to think that a foster child would so quickly give a hug with this look of comfort and appreciation. Real life drop-offs don’t always work that smoothly.

Most of ours have not been dramatic, just strangely casual. Like we’re having friends over for a playdate, and no one’s really talking about the elephant in the room. The first night has never been all that emotional.

The part that really got me was the shot at the table.

Here they sit in anticipation. They pour a cup of coffee because what else is there to do? Everything else at this point seems so trivial. You’ve cleaned the house and prepared as much as you could since the call probably came only hours before. But to watch TV is irritating and senseless. You can’t go anywhere. So here we sit like waiting for the doctor to come out of surgery with an update.

They share a glance of mutual understanding that says “We both agreed to do this. Get ready, cause it’s about to happen.” Then they chuckle, knowing that they may very well be in over their heads, which is entirely possible.

Because then the foster child comes. And you get the privilege and burden of not only the experience, but also knowing all the gruesome details that would cause a child to be in this situation to start with. It’s the difference between knowing and understanding. Between head-knowledge or heart-knowledge. We could all guess pretty accurately what abuse or neglect happens to families in the system. But when you hear the reports over the phone while you’re looking at the child this happened to – it becomes real. When you become closer to the birth family and hear the cycles of trauma that have been around for generations, the grief becomes insurmountable.

That’s when you realize that nothing in this world is perfect, and the best you can do is to do something. Simply take an action with heart full of hope that maybe it will make a difference at some point.

So they look at each other and smile, with the head-knowledge that their hearts are about to be challenged. But we’ve never been the type to just sit back anyway.

Then they hold hands.

Holding hands when you’re dating is only sensational. You do it just to see if she’s as willing to hold your hand as you are. But when you’ve been married for a couple decades, holding hands is a way to rededicate the vows you gave years ago without having to say a word. When things around us get tough, she will grab my hand and say “hold on tight.”

Too many times we’ve been at that same coffee table, after a really long day with the foster kids or after getting disappointing news, and we hold hands and say “hold on tight.”

Whenever we hear of couples getting a divorce, “hold on tight.” When we hear of infidelity or a spouse passing away, “hold on tight.” When we hear of children who grow up and fall away from their faith or give up on trying, “hold on tight.”

Because if you were to ask me in the best and brightest of days, I would rather be thanking God for this woman in my life than anything else. So in the darkest of challenges, we have to remind ourselves that even though this moment is difficult, this is better than anything else. Fighting for this is worth it. This. We can’t lose this. We can’t let this go.

Because it seems as though the people around us are all facing the worst of circumstances. It’s like they are being dragged away from the fairy-tale life we all dreamed of, the life we seemed to all be living just a few years before. And now attacks are coming from every angle and it’s enough emotional weight to make you physically cringe inside.

Hold on tight. Say it again and again as often as you need to. Take the ones you love the most and fight through the sleepless nights and longest days to make it work. Better to have this than live any other life.

So we go back to the table from time to time. Reset. Pour a cup of coffee. Turn off the irritating and senseless TV. Share a glance of mutual understanding. Acknowledge that we may not know what to do next. But take my hand. Hold on tight. Release a nervous laugh. God’s got this. Our task is to simply be willing, faithful, and ready to go,

because the doorbell is about to ring.

We Still Need “Thoughts and Prayers”

In this digital age, whenever sad news is posted or a tragedy happens, we all feel compelled to comment. Typically, we have good intentions to show sympathy or give comfort by letting the person or group know they have an online community with them. But these sad events seem to happen too often, and too often our words of comfort come up short on originality.

This is even more challenging for famous people or politicians – those with a blue checkmark next to their Twitter handle. Not only are they expected to say something, their response must be to the liking of any potential reader. If not, prepare for an onslaught of them getting ripped to shreds for not saying enough, or doing enough, or saying too much, or missing the point, or having the audacity to misspell a word when death is on the line!

So the safest route for a while was to simply play it safe and offer a generic phrase to acknowledge the event and show concern but not risk saying the wrong thing. Thus the phrase “thoughts and prayers” was born. And then it was used by others and repeated and copied/pasted.

Unfortunately, too many tragedies happened. And what do you say this time that’s different than last time but still emphasizes your intent?

My thoughts and prayers are with those affected.

“Oh!? You said that last time and what good did it do???”

Nowadays, “thoughts and prayers” are the low-hanging fruit of a go-to comeback for any critic. (Nevermind how unoriginal it is to repeat overused one-liners to really stick it to that guy you despise on Facebook.)

Personally, I’ve had enough with debates online so I tend to just not say anything unless it’s a funny gif. I’d rather not type a single word for fear of saying the wrong thing from someone else’s perspective. But what’s the alternative for someone who is actually sad? For someone who is actually thinking about the people involved, and might actually be saying a prayer for them? Should the burden be on them to word it in such a way to not trigger the cynic? Or can we all lower our keyboard weapons and let people have their harmless, albeit generic comment?

The logic behind “thoughts and prayers” criticism is reasonable from one vantage point: there are problems in this world that may be fixed if certain action was taken, and by their perspective, simply saying “thoughts and prayers” is equivalent to no action at all. I could make the same argument for ANY digital comment made, including their critique. No comment is considered action unless someone acts on it. So the criticism is really invalid.

Let’s give the benefit of doubt to the the one making the comment and assume they might actually be taking the time to stop and think about the situation, as well as lifting up a prayer for those involved.

What good does it do? I have a few suggestions.

– Sympathy

Of all the people who know me personally, even those who never stepped in a Sunday morning church service, they have always shown appreciation if I pray for them. Whether you believe or not, there is an element of appreciation for someone to be willing to pray on your behalf. Take, for example, you’re in need of a job, and I say, “well, I know the head of a company who’s hiring. I’ll put in a good word.” You’d be delighted. Prayer is the same. I consider it an honor, privilege, and obligation to take the things that concern me and put them at the feet of a higher power.

There are millions of things not on my radar. I don’t care about them, and as a result, I don’t pray about them. If I actually took the time to comment “thoughts and prayers” on a post, I care about it. I really do! If a story has made it’s way through the noise of the rubbish out there to the point someone sees it, thinks about it, and makes a sympathetic comment, they shouldn’t be ridiculed for it.

“Hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is”

Rollo May

I suppose we should at least appreciate that there is someone who cares, AND another one who cares enough to criticize. There are probably millions of others who simply do not care enough to do one or the other.

But when you’re the one who’s hurt, a little bit a sympathy goes a long way.

– Motivation

Have you ever had that little voice in your head nagging you to do something? Have you had a passing thought but you keep letting it pass by? Have you had this disturbance in your gut that has nothing to do with food and you can’t shake it?

I had it for a while with broken down cars on the side of the road. I told myself “next time I won’t be in such a rush and will stop and help.” Time flew by and I probably passed by dozens over weeks, always too busy to stop. Finally, the day came where I was on my way home, with no particular plans, and saw a car stuck in the turning lane. I turned my hazard lights on, and as I walked over, a guy from church comes to help, walking from the other side. We laughed about the coincidence and pushed the car out of the way.

I wasn’t super proud of myself for stopping. More than that I wondered if this is an every day task for the other guy. If his heart was just that generous in general and didn’t need months of convincing to do it.

We’re not all the same. Motivation to do good can take time. It took years before I ran out of excuses to volunteer for a youth mentoring program, but I’m glad I finally did. Maybe people who comment on unfortunate news often enough are one by one motivating themselves into future action.

– Power

Kierkegaard said “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” I’m not sure of his context, but I would change it: “prayer is to influence God AND change our nature.” For the one who prays sincerely, they believe there is power in the act of prayer for changes to occur. There are stories upon stories that would seemingly prove the power of prayer, but I suppose all of them could be disregarded as coincidence. There are even statistics I could present to show the effectiveness of prayer with medical patients. But the intent of a prayer is not necessarily to convince the world of it’s effectiveness, but to lift up to God the prayer itself.

Even though movies might represent prayer as a last resort action, many of the strongest people of faith go to prayer as their initial reaction. They’ve had a life full of answered prayers and the best thing they could possibly do for you, is to pray. The best thing I would ask them to do for me, is to pray.

I’ll be the first to preach one of my favorite verses “If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” But in the same letter he says “pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

If I could do one thing, and only one thing, I would offer up a prayer. If I truly believe what it is I confess to believe, then I believe God has the power to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, far outweighing anything I could do on my own. And offering “thoughts and prayers”, might be overwhelmingly more than you would ever think is possible.

I Forget I Have Foster Kids

Sometimes when I get home from work, it’s quiet. That means my wife is busy or resting and the kids are all upstairs or across the street playing. Other nights I get home and one kid screams “DADDY!”, one gives me a big hug, one gives me a long hug, and one tells me a story.

Then later on I tell one kid to pick up toys, one to clean dishes, one to put up dishes, and one to take out trash.

When school is in, one needs to go to bed on time, one has paper homework, one has computer homework, and one has a project.

All of them are stubborn in their own ways. All of them are helpful, smart, and innocent.

When they have a bad moment, one can be bossy, one tends to hide the truth, one thinks the world is ending, and the other throws a fit.

At their best, one is charming, one is helpful, one is sweet, and one is kind.

Unless you know each of them really well, it’s probably hard to tell which two are our biological kids and which two are our foster kids. Most days I get lost in the crazy schedules, things to do, and things to remember that I forget I have foster kids. They are all children in my house. I’m responsible for them. I also have to feed them, discipline them, and make sure they bathe and sleep from time to time. And in doing all those mundane things, I neglect to remember their circumstance.

Sometimes I intentionally “forget”, when someone comments on how close in age they all are, I respond with a definitive “Yep.” to avoid the awkward and unnecessary conversation. Sometimes I forget when they do something important like a band performance, or someone compliments me on how great they are. I puff out my chest as if I’m responsible for the majority of their life where they were raised to be great kids before I came into the picture.

Late at night is typically when they miss their mom the most. And not just their mom, but their former lifestyle. They miss all the things that we would consider less than appealing, but they wish to go back because it was theirs. It’s all representative of the last time their family was together. The life they’re in now is our life. We’ve grafted them into how we do things. We’re conscious of their preferences and traditions, but day-to-day life happens and those tend to slip away.

Today they both got braces. That’s a big deal! A really big deal they might remember forever. And the memory will be associated with having done it in their foster home. That’s neither good nor bad. But it’s in these moments I wonder if they think about their family and if they’re wanting to show off their smile to them.

They have moments where they miss their mom more than usual, and it’s neither good nor bad that they do. They forget to think about their old life, and that’s neither good nor bad. They absolutely love some of the things they get to do by living with us, and that’s neither good nor bad.

When they get injured, I wonder if I’m handling the way they’re used to (probably not – I’m more interested in how they got injured to start with.) When they wake up in the middle of the night, are they a little disappointed it’s me that came to check on them? When they come home with a good or bad grade, did I react to an appropriate amount?

But in forgetting that they are foster kids, it’s not that I feel like I’m purposefully taking ownership of them. I still know they have a mom who loves them. We advocate for reunification and make it our mission. It’s just not at the forefront of my mind. Then occasionally we have a rough day, and like waking up to a bucket of ice water, I remember “oh yeah, this is all really hard for them.”

I suppose it’s just like getting over a breakup or a loved one passing away, where time takes over and the moments of sadness and heartbreak happen less often than they used to. Right after the event happens your heart races so much you can feel it pulsing through your veins; you can audibly hear the beats pounding. But give it time and it levels back out to a new normal.

So it’s not that we would actually be doing anything different. But simply knowing and remembering creates an empathy to care for others.

It’s driving for miles not acknowledging a single road sign, but suddenly a “Proceed with Caution” catches your attention. Remember someone’s situation, know that this moment might be difficult, and intentionally put love first. In hard times, that’s all any of us need: to be known, loved, heard, and remembered.

You Don’t Even Know

You don’t even know how beautiful she is. Sure she puts effort into looking good, but she doesn’t need to. She could dress up or not; makeup or not; hair up or down. She’s most beautiful when she’s happy. It pierces my eyes and tattoos my memories.

You don’t even know how much she needs the sun. Not loves, likes, or enjoys the sun. Needs it. She’s like a plant whose flower naturally gazes at the sun in the morning and instinctively follows it all the way across the sky. Her heart rate, blood pressure, and endorphins all change at the first hint of warmth from the light. The ocean has the same effect on her. Giving her both annually is how she survives the winter.

You don’t even know how she’s honest to the core. She wouldn’t take a penny that wasn’t hers, skip a line, or even accept something for free. It makes me blush for every little thing I’ve ever tried to get away with. To be loved by someone so genuine makes you feel pure and comfortable.

You don’t even know how hard she works. If it’s hers to do, it will be done. Mostly with ease, sometimes with tears, but you’ll never want anyone else to do next time.

You don’t know how determined she can be. Not necessarily stubborn, not selfish. She’s determined because she knows the answer already. You might as well give up. She’s too smart, honest, and willing to do what needs done, so there’s nothing that can stand in her way.

You don’t know how smart she is. She hasn’t filled up on endless encyclopedias of useless knowledge just to know it, but she could. She hated math growing up, but has mastered it for a job. She “gets it.” She’s not naive or ignorant; she’s quick and thoughtful. She will challenge you, and eventually you’ll realize she was right.

You don’t even know how funny she is. It won’t come out as a pun or a joke, but to laugh with her is like the satisfaction of a good meal and the relief after a workout.

You don’t even know her restraint. She could cut you with words and you’d have a scar for life. But she doesn’t. She wouldn’t. It’s not in her to do that to someone else. In fact, she’ll do the opposite, and in kindness heap coals of fire on your head.

You don’t even know her heart. You may have seen it or felt it, but you don’t know how sincere it is. For the vulnerable and abused, the forgotten and lonely, her heart beats for them. She would make a million dollars to have something to give away. She would build the biggest house to give them a place to live. She would hire chefs to feed them all (because she’s not cooking).

She’s a great mother and friend. She sees God in creation and music. She loves mornings and food. You may know her likes and dislikes. You may know her preferences and opinions. You may know her quirks and tendencies.

You don’t even know her like I do. In a way I wish everyone understood her fully, because she’s that amazing and you would love it. But I also know this knowledge is safe with me. I’ll protect it and defend its integrity. It will be my pleasure to spend the rest of my life getting to know her more.

Absolutely No Reason

This morning I actually got out of the house a little early to make it to work on time. I thought if I could get an hour’s worth of work in before our standup meeting, then I could basically do the grown-up version of finishing my homework the morning before school. I headed to the interstate since it looked like “normal” traffic.

Then I broke rule #1 of Nashville Traffic: don’t veer off the path you’re on. I know I should always take either the Interstate or the Highway; never try and mix it up to avoid a wreck because so does everyone else.

I head down a side road all confident (like a fool) where I’m met by a train which has come to a complete stop right across the street. People are standing around, looking at it like someone just hit a cow and they don’t know what to do about it. So now I spend another 30 minutes just meandering around side streets like Pac-Man in Nashville. I arrive… defeated.

Why do I tell you that story?

Absolutely No Reason.


After having had a rough morning already, I decided to treat myself to a coffee. It’s warm outside, the rain hasn’t started yet, and I’m walking with a little excitement in my step. (This is the grownup version of going to the candy store). I head over to The Well Coffeehouse. It’s been a while and they donate to provide clean water in impoverished countries. So extra kudos for me.

What I should’ve said was “One decaf latte, please.” I’m not supposed to have caffeine; trying not to do sugar. Instead my eyes went blurry over the menu and I picked the first thing that didn’t appear sweetened: “a Cortado!” It’s a double espresso drink with an ounce of milk. Comes in a little dixie cup. Not quite my jam but lately I’ve been headed in the direction of black coffee. A far cry from my days of only being able to handle coffee-flavored melted ice cream a decade ago.

It starts to rain. I head out the door to make it back dry, but stumble a little. Coffee sloshes out and smears over my hand. Probably lost a dollar of good espresso right there. And now my heart is racing cause I forgot all about this stupid decaf thing.

Why do I tell you that story?

Absolutely No Reason.


All I can think about now is getting home. The past couple years the best thing I get to do is see my toddler scream “DADDY!” and run to me when he hears the door open. I grab him tight and tackle him to the floor and we wrestle and hug. Sometimes he asks questions like “Did you go to work!?”  and “Do you still have a beard?” For a moment I forget whatever else was bothering me an hour before.

Then my pre-teen daughter finally realizes I’m here. She’s also excited but takes her longer to notice these days. “Oh! Hi Dad! You have GOT to hear what we did in class today…” I eventually weave my way to the kitchen where my wife and I hug. It’s a simultaneous emotional flush of all the bad and a recharge of all the good. We attempt to recap everything that happen since last we were together, but usually get interrupted by something.

Why do I tell you that story?

Absolutely No Reason…

Except to say this.

Life is full of these little moments. Some good, some bad. Some worth telling about later, some not. I’m busy. I’m distracted by all the things.

Distracted from what? – From the thing I’m supposed to be doing.

What am I supposed to be doing? – I guess all the things!

And around and around we go till we all fall down.

If I’m not careful, this becomes the story of my life. It’s not the worst life to have. But in the end, my eulogy states “He loved a good coffee on his way to work in the morning and was pretty nice to his family.”

I feel in my gut I should have more purpose in my days. Even in my moments. Taking care of my family is one of those. So instead of just wrestling my boy for fun, I do it knowing I’m creating a strong bond between us. And when I listen to my daughter, I give her undivided attention so she feels important and becomes confident. I hug my wife knowing she needs it as much as I do, and if through the chaos we can at least make that moment happen every day, we’ll be alright.

But all the little moments shouldn’t be distractions from what you’d rather do, they should be a part of your daily purpose: to love and good works. You can turn moments of traffic into opportunities to appreciate music and scenery. And getting coffee into opportunities to show genuine interest in people. But more importantly, you can and should insert effort and time in your life dedicated to a higher calling. So when the day is done, you have a good story worth telling.

We can live our whole lives busy and full of activity and have nothing to show for it. So busy that we never even realized there was something to be missed.

Don’t live your life for Absolutely No Reason.

Awaken in Prayer

This past month a few people organized an event where churches all around the area would pray for every person in Nashville. To participate you got a packet with instructions, pamphlets for guidance, and a list of 15 first-names and their address. The instructions were to pray for each name everyday and send them a note to simply let them know they had been prayed for. I don’t know the official numbers, but if I’m just estimating that there are possibly 750,000 names and 15 names per person, that could be almost 50,000 people praying…

for every person
by name
every day
for 30 days.

That’s amazing to me. Tens of thousands actively praying in a positive way for strangers not knowing their demographics, circumstances, or backgrounds. Faceless people.

Using some pretty basic googling skills, I could have a picture of every person on my list within a few minutes. (Welcome to the digital age!) I chose not to, but it wasn’t hard to assume the race and class of the people on my list judging by the sound of the first name and knowing the zip code. My list had addresses from a more affluent side of town. But even then, my first thought was all these people could be in any number of circumstances at the moment. They could be undergoing loss, or health problems, or stress, or hopelessness. Or… not.

I didn’t realize there was a booklet in the packet that provided you with a daily prayer example, ironically I did a very similar thing. I came up with something to ask for that would fit anyone. In many cases, what I would want someone to have prayed for me that day. A few examples:
Soften their hearts
Give them guidance
Give them a Stronger faith
Bring someone in their life to bless them
Health
Them to see God at work in their life
Stay pure in heart
Give them peace
To forgive and be forgiven
Give them daily bread
Find their Purpose
Bring them joy
Lay their burdens down

It wasn’t weird to me at all to pray for people I didn’t know. I would take the paper and stare at each name, one by one. I felt like I was getting to know them. Often I would get an image in my head of what circumstance they might be in, and that maybe this prayer was something they really needed. Who knows if any of it would’ve been accurate, but it just proved to me more and more why doing this was so important.


Our church hosted a time of prayer on Wednesday nights during this period. Just a dimly lit room with soft music, papers with guided prayers or lists of more names were available, and some blank cards to write letters to people in our congregation. This was something I didn’t know I needed. It was so refreshing and relaxing to have a period of dedicated time to simply sit with my thoughts. I prayed for some people in my life and wrote a card.

When it was almost time for it to end, our minister walked over to me and my wife and prayed over us. He spoke words of encouragement, validated our efforts as parents and foster parents, and asked for God to be close to us during these stressful days. Whether he knew it or not, this past month has been excruciatingly stressful, having had an uncle pass away, losing many of my co-workers to outsourcing, having to work extra hard and extra long days, on top of the normal busyness of a life with kids and foster kids. All of this boiled up and overflowed in the form of moisture in my eyes.

Now, I’ll cry at a movie or sometimes when telling a really personal story, but not simply by someone talking to me. Like a facade falling off a building, the false sense of strength and composure I had been presenting to the world came crumbling down. I was exposed and thankful. For a moment I could breathe again. I realized in all of these days of praying for other people, I neglected to pray for myself. You would think that’s a good thing, but that’s not what we’re called to do. We’re called to love others AS ourselves, not instead of ourselves.

I really appreciated being prayed for. Maybe the people on my list did too. My guess is the creators of the project knew the double-meaning of Awaken when choosing the name. The initial thought being that we would Awaken the people of Nashville to a life with Christ. But just as important, that we, the Church, Awaken to become Christians who desire to pray for others. Christians who want the best for our unknown neighbors. People willing to take time to bring a name before the God we believe has the power to make a difference.

If we believe in an all-powerful God, and that He has called us to love and good works, then we should be inspired to pray. Those prayers will then compel us into action to treat each stranger we encounter as if they may be the person we just spent 30 days praying for.

We Don’t Need Valentine’s

Today is Valentine’s. I’m currently at the car shop with a flat tire and working the rest of the day. She’s taking the toddler to the dentist. After school, one kid is in a short-term bowling league, so she’s hauling all four of them over there. It lasts just long enough to barely make it to the Valentine’s School Dance (which is actually on Valentine’s. I haven’t decided if that’s a positive for a couple hours off or a burden for having to do it). But so far, only the girls want to go; the boy may or may not. So we don’t know if we’ll just have the toddler tonight or two boys.

Happy Valentine’s. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

This so-called holiday has never really worked out for us. At the beginning, my second jobs would get in the way. If delivering pizzas, it was almost required to be there because the parents going out on a date wanted to order something for the kids. Or while working at the Ryman Auditorium, there would most definitely be a show, because there needs to be a concert for lovers to attend. Our plans would typically never form, or we’d try to make up for it the night before or after.

But it’s probably bothered me more than my wife. I’m more of the hopeless romantic anyway. Every year since our first Valentine’s together, I would give her a rose on what was our dating anniversary and each day until Valentine’s. Every year! This year she was not surprised because I had left a reminder for myself on the online calendar. And I must have gotten the worst batch of flowers from Kroger because every rose I gave would die the next day. I left one as a surprise to find, but the morning was so chaotic that it was a burden for her to have to deal with it.

Happy Valentine’s. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

I don’t even know how you handle babysitting on Valentine’s anyway. Either you’re asking another couple to not do their Valentine’s, or saying “Hey, you’re single! Why don’t you babysit for us?!”

But here’s the good news. We don’t need Valentine’s. Valentine’s happens the rest of the year. You can’t make up for 364 days of being a lame husband on one candlelight dinner. But you can miss one night intended to be romantic, if you’ve done enough the rest of the year.

If the only time you’re romantic is on Valentine’s, then you’re no romantic at all. What for? So you can overspend on unnecessary stuff to try and pay off your shortcomings? No. (Though why wife says she would not reject jewelry if I wanted to get her something).

Valentine’s happens when I come home and let her take a bath in peace and quite while I do homework with the kids. Valentine’s happened last weekend when she let me sleep in on a Saturday. It happens when I took all her work supplies to her car for her so she wouldn’t have to worry about it in the morning.

It happened when she did my part of the housework while I was having a rough day. It’s when I had a pack of decaf k-cups delivered to her office because she complained about the brand she had. It’s knowing each other so well that the best present at Christmas wasn’t on anyone’s list. It’s taking date nights once or twice a month.

Valentine’s happens with the hugs, kisses, hand-holding, glances, notes, favorite TV shows, and midday messages throughout the whole year. So if this over-blown holiday doesn’t work out like it does in the movies, don’t worry. You’ve got all year to show the love of your life, why they’re the love of your life.

Walking in Their Footsteps

Today I attended the funeral of my uncle; the second uncle I’ve lost in six months. Both of them were such good men. Strong, kind, God-fearing, family men. Small-town, friendly, hard-working, firm handshake men. Good men.

That word “good” kept coming up with every conversation about him. There wasn’t a better word to come to mind. Regardless of my limited vocabulary, it sums up his life really well.

They both had served in the military earlier in life. And as such, were treated with military honors at the funeral. (Can I just say how much I love that this happens, is required by law, and how they do it so respectfully). It is a beautiful site to see that flag draped over the coffin. There’s a sense of pride knowing they were willing to sacrifice their lives 60 years ago. But thankfully, they had 60 more years of a free life to enjoy. 60 more years of growing a family and doing good in the world.

Good. There’s that word again. They were good. They did good.

The family asked me to be a pallbearer. My hand was last to push the casket into the hearse. Standing there staring at the blue field of white stars, I had an empty feeling. Not so much that I was sad, but that there’s a hole in the world with him gone. “We lost a good one,” my aunt said about him. A good one.

Two soldiers from around the greatest generation. And not to compare, but I feel a bit unworthy. Here I am, the same age my dad was when I first went to a funeral. I’m a grown-up. I don’t remember becoming a grown-up, but I suppose I am one. I’m certainly old enough.

Whatever the vague line is that I had to cross to be a man, I suppose I did that, too. So, here I am standing in the shadows of two greats, buried in a pile of my 1st-world-problems, with the realization that my cousins and I are the one to fill their shoes.

Maybe there’s a better analogy… like walking in their footsteps. No one can fill their shoes or do what they did, especially in their times and circumstances. And it’s not a competition. To do what? Build bigger buildings? Drive faster cars? Fight worse battles?

Every generation wants the ones coming up behind to have it a little easier. And maybe in some ways it is, but in others it’s not. Humans tend to make a mess of things one way or another. There’s nothing new under the sun.

If I can do anything to honor their legacy, it would be to do good. To be good. What else would they ask for? What more could I do? To live my life so that in the end, I have a room full of people saying, “we lost a good one.” And maybe that’s enough to leave the next generation wondering if they’re also doing enough.

Today, someone brought my mom a 100-year-old picture of my great-grandfather driving a train out of a phosphate mine he worked in. They said the mine was enough work for the whole town to support their families. They started a church there. Doing good goes back generations upon generations.

Here we are. The grown-ups. The next generation. The ones with the baton in our hands and a stadium of future generations anxious to see how fast we’ll run.

Well, take a deep breath, because the time has come. Go forth and do good.

Food and Music Therapy

Currently, our foster kids are 13 and 11 years old. For an extended weekend, my wife volunteered to watch their half-siblings, both toddlers, to give their grandmother a break. My wife may whine a little in the midst of it all, but she has the biggest heart of anyone I know. See, for the rest of us, our selfishness hushes our heart before we get too attached. Her heart beats the living daylight out of any selfishness before she realizes that we’re now watching six kids for five days.

We suddenly realize that we may have an opportunity to let all four kids see their mom (whom we absolutely love) for the first time since last Spring. So we make plans on Saturday for her to take them and I will stay with our two kids.

I decide to do something different for lunch, since it’s now only three of us, and go to a new Japanese restaurant. Before getting settled in, my wife calls and tells me that the place “didn’t have the records”, didn’t really care to try, and left them no option but to leave disappointed. So now my wife’s just pleaded and balled her eyes out in front of strangers, the older kids are upset and confused, the younger ones are tired and hungry.

“Come meet me at this restaurant,” I say.

I get the waitress to get us a big table: 2 adults, 3 big kids, 2 little kids, 1 baby. I order a variety of plates and one sampling of sushi, just for the fun of it. Everything is being served just as they walk in. The restaurant is mostly empty, dimly lit, and quiet.

I can see the distress on their faces turn slowly to relief with every dish of rice, chicken, and soup. We divide everything up. “Can I try that!?” “Can I have more?” 

Then comes the sushi. Almost everyone tries the California Roll. Three of us eat the raw fish.

It was weird, and yummy, and fun.


As if that wasn’t enough for a weekend, the next day I had to drive the little siblings back to their family. The four of them have been like Velcro on each other for five days, and now it was time to separate the pieces. We meet in a parking lot and transfer bags and car seats. They’re about to leave and I try to get the older boy to come out and give hugs when I realize he isn’t because he’s trying to hold back his tears. 

The first few minutes of the drive back he was sobbing into his hands. The girl is stronger than all of us put together; she’ll hold it all in and put on a good face for her younger brother. 

I put on a CD of what is probably our favorite album from our favorite band, “Indian Summer” by Carbon Leaf. Track after track of good, catchy, poetic songs. No one was talking so I turn it up loud and let the music fill the lonely, empty air. I can sense them starting to get in to it a little. Heads bobbing. Humming. Drumming. 

Some of their songs have a melancholy tone. The sentimentality doesn’t allow you to listen without thinking. Then comes the best one with the repeated line “When all of your tears dry, let your troubles roll by…” Over and over and over again. Not like a nagging voice, but like a mother rubbing your back to calm you down. I’ve heard that song a thousand times and never cried. But I hear him sniffle. Then I hear her sniffle. Then I sniffle.

And by the time we make it home, the tight chest-pain of sadness had been released with a deep breath.  


Life is busy and noisy. Too busy to sit at a table without distractions. Too noisy to let an entire album play and soak it in. Too often we forget how to recenter and refocus. I, for one, am thankful that in a weekend of really heavy events, which is just a snapshot of a really heavy year, we were able to come out on the other side. Heads up, eyes dry, arms around each other.

If the world could use anything right now, I think it should be:

meals around a big table with the ones you love

and good music

In the Practice of Service

Our church participates with Room In The Inn, a program which buses homeless from downtown to local churches to give them a dinner, shower, and warm place to sleep during the winter months. We saw there were open spaces for volunteers on Christmas night, for men to stay the night as Innkeepers and for anyone to help in the kitchen. Lately, we had started to notice situations where our kids and foster kids were showing selfish or entitled attitudes. (I know… kids being a little selfish sometimes. Crazy, right?!?!) And they were a little too confident of the big presents they *might* get for Christmas.

So we signed our family up to help with Room In The Inn for Christmas night. We did it for two reasons. It’s definitely not because we’re simply wonderful people; every bone in my body would rather be at home enjoying the lavish presents I just got this morning. But if we’re going to claim that we are Jesus followers, and as such are to treat other people as we want to be treated, there should be some evidence to the fact.

The second reason was to give the kids an opportunity to serve. It seemed even more appropriate to bookend the getting of presents in the morning with the giving of food at night. What I didn’t want was to bring them in just to gawk at homeless men and say “look at these poor people on Christmas night!” Cause it’s not like that. Talking to these men, you’ll quickly find out that the stories are all over the place. Not everyone is in a helpless, hopeless situation. They more or less may just need shelter tonight. Ironically, I could tell the story of our foster kids to most of them, and they’d be the ones having pity on our kids instead.

What I want for our kids is to be in the practice of service. Service isn’t to be done because the recipient deserves it. It isn’t to be done only if you are emotionally beaten into submission. Service is a practice, a mindset, a lifestyle.

I know they wouldn’t necessarily enjoy doing this. I didn’t want this to make them feel guilty about the presents they got. And I hope they don’t resent us for forcing them here. If it all works out like I’d want it to, serving will become second-nature for them, and tonight was just practice.

The heart of giving is in the act itself. Of course, most everyone who gives willingly says that you feel more blessed than being the recipient. And of course, the recipient is blessed by what was given. But the beauty is in the action of service. I’ve heard the economy explained in a similar way. There’s not a finite amount of money, like a pie, and if someone has a bigger slice it leaves less for others. Instead it has the ability to expand with both the earning and spending of money.

Giving is the same. We’ve seen stories of people with the smallest amount, still being willing to give even in their meager situation. The economy of service grows in the receiving and giving.

The smallest acts can make the biggest of differences. One of the men tonight asked if Tom still volunteered here. I knew exactly who he was talking about. He said 20 years ago, Tom struck up a conversation with him in a store and got him a good job with the Parks Dept. He hadn’t forgotten it to this day. I went on for five minutes about all the other good things that I knew Tom does and has done for people.

Earlier my wife mentioned reading about how some have a Christmas Eve tradition to go to a restaurant and leave an astronomical tip. I remember delivering pizzas during December, really hoping for generous tips to make the holiday season a little easier. Now we’re in more of a position to be the tipper. And that’s fun!

And in telling those two stories, (Tom helping a guy find a job and leaving big tips), I see a significant difference between serving and giving. An act of service is on a different playing field than blind giving, especially anything above basic needs. Most of the men taking shelter tonight are familiar with the routine of getting a meal and a bed. Many are down and asleep as soon as they’re done eating. Tonight one man mentioned a tooth ache, and one of the kitchen helpers made him a cup of warm salt water and found some medicine to help alleviate the pain. The giving is appreciated but soon forgotten, but the serving will leave a lasting connection.

The more I acquire in life, the more I realize I don’t need all this stuff. We spend years trying to get all the things, then they quickly lose their appeal. Scarcity drives desire.

Fortunately for us, the foster care system provides a stipend that takes care of the kids’ needs. But what we appreciate the most are acts of service. A night of babysitting. Grandma being able to pick up the kids from school when they’re sick. Childcare at church, especially when we had toddlers last year. Bringing a meal, so we wouldn’t have to worry about dinner on busy days. Those acts of service take more effort and intention than a tangible gift, but they mean so much more. (Although, who’s really going to turn down a gift card?)

Receiving shouldn’t be expected, but giving seems to be reciprocal. I remember so many times people served us in unexpected and generous ways. Like when we were living in Florida out of college, ignorantly trying to make it on our own, a number of people gifted me with odd jobs. As lame as a worker as I was, I’ll never forget all those opportunities.

The main reason I serve now, is because I’m “returning the favor” by passing it on to others. It’s influential to serve (watch any number of commercials copying the pay it forward concept). There is more to be had the more that’s given.

On Christmas night, it’s not lost on me the luxury of being able to choose to be in this smelly old gym instead of at home with my family, surrounded by a choir of snoring men who didn’t have that choice. I’m also not ignorant enough to think that many may be here tonight because of poor choices they’ve made. And at the same time, I’d guess they’ve had so many things happen TO them, that had the same happen to me, I’d be exactly where they are. But good grief, it’s Christmas and they’re here. That hurts. I mourn all the events they’ve endured leading up to having to be here on Christmas.

So people in churches all over the city are serving tonight, because they all recognize they too have been recipients of great gifts.

Giving isn’t only for those who deserve it. The beauty of serving is not found in the outcome or the reason. The beauty of serving is found in the service itself.

“For God so loved the world that He gave…”

“Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…”

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…”

So in response to a good Christmas, first look back and acknowledge the times others have served you this past year, then find an opportunity to serve. Start by looking at the people around you. Do something little. Something helpful. Time. Attention. Support. Validation. Encouragement. And of course, babysitting. The opportunities are always there.